Brian – Baltimore, MD
My Jasper is a 7 yo Tennessee Walker with a dominant personality. His original name was “Monster”, which accurately summarized his behavior at the time. He has a “duck and buck” maneuver that is quite successful at unseating riders. Optimal Balance has been good for him. He looks terrific, enjoys the work, and hasn’t seen any reason to employ “duck and buck” for some time now. We are still at the early stages of balanced riding, riding at a slow walk and working on left/right and front/back balance. My wife and I have recently started short rides in the woods as part of his training and exercise.
The other day we went for a short ride in the woods as a prelude to starting our exercises. Along the trail is a house with a pair of dogs that get excited when the horses go by. On that day one of the dogs ventured into the woods, barking and running up to us as we rode by. Jasper started to get excited. Playing it safe, I got off and put myself between Jasper and the dog (my wife stayed on Blaze, our other 7 yo Tennessee Walker). Jasper calmed down. My next goal was to get the dog to calm down so would could continue along. Following Cesar Millan’s advice, I claimed my space, staying between the dog and the horses as it ran around, trying to circle around me to get closer to the horses. I ended up walking around the horse, going up the trail (as the dog ran up the trail, barking). This went on for a bit — walking, circling, …. Jasper was right with me the whole time. Eventually I got the dog calm and we were able to move on.
What makes this noteworthy for me is this: I had no line on Jasper. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the reins while I walked around the horses, tracking the dog. The trail was narrow right there with lots of trees and branches. I couldn’t risk getting the reins tangled. We were near enough to home that I looped the reigns up over Jasper’s neck so they wouldn’t get tangled when he decided to walk home, which I expected him to do. He didn’t. He decided that the safest place for him to be was just behind my right shoulder. When I walked, he walked. When I stopped, he stopped. When I circled around, he turned around with me. His attention was fully on me, not on Blaze or the dog or the situation. Each time I glanced back he was both-eyes, both-ears on me, asking “What do we do next?”.
I was amazed. He was following just as if I had a lead line on him. His attention was unwavering. No spooking, no pushing, no turning away, not passing me, no looking this way and that way.
My wife and I started Optimal Balance to improve our riding and the health of the horses. From that perspective, this behavior on the ground is a by-product of the program; something that falls out as a consequence of working towards the goal of better, healthier riding. This is what attracts me to Optimal Balance: it has a core consistency at each level of work. What I do with the horse on the ground is what I do on the long lines, which is what I do under saddle. I just use different tools.
I got back on Jasper and we did a little work when we got back. Under saddle I got the same level of attentiveness as I had on the ground. Or do I get the same level of attentiveness on the ground as I do under saddle? Hard to say at this point.